Fulmer waxes poetic

Phillip Fulmer is no William Shakespeare, but Tennessee's head football coach sounded almost poetic while addressing his struggling Vols earlier this week.

"I told ‘em yesterday that tough times are kind of like a grindstone: It either polishes you or grinds you down," Fulmer said during Tuesday's weekly media conference. "If yesterday's practice was any indication, they're looking forward to playing a big ballgame this weekend."

The Vols had better be looking forward because what's behind them is downright ugly. A team projected as a national title contender in preseason barely managed to split its first six games.

"It's been a really, really tough season – tough on the team, tough on the staff, tough on the fans I'm certain," Fulmer said. "These kids are as disappointed as anybody, especially when you feel like a couple of games you should've won you didn't get it done."

Many observers figure the Vols will fold now that their hopes for a top-10 finish and a quality bowl bid have disintegrated. Fulmer, who calls Tennessee "the best 3-3 team in the country," begs to differ.

"They'll be back to fight again," he said. "Our team has shown the resiliency and physical toughness to get it done. We had a great meeting yesterday. The kids responded with a practice that was very, very good.

"I don't think we have an issue with the kids packing it in. They're ready to fight, ready to turn our misfortunes – misfortunes of our own doing – around."

So, now that their preseason goals have been exposed as pipe dreams, what do the Vols play for?

"We play for each other because that's all we have right now," senior linebacker Jason Mitchell said. "There's each other and the die-hard fans we have who are still supporting us. We're not playing for the national championship or the SEC championship, so we're playing for each other and our pride."

That sounds good but talk's cheap. What evidence is there that the Vols can put actions with their words?

"The fact we're practicing the same as we were a couple of weeks ago," Mitchell said. "We're not practicing like a 3-3 team. We're still practicing like we've got a chance to win every game."

Cornerback Jason Allen, a senior captain who suffered a season-ending hip injury two weeks ago, believes the team will salvage the season. He says Tennessee's 3-3 record is not indicative of the team's strength.

"There are some tough teams in the SEC, and sometimes the ball doesn't roll in your favor," he said. "If the ball had rolled in our favor, we could be 6-0 instead of 3-3. Guys have the right attitude. They want to work and get better.

"The leadership on the team is great. I still believe in my heart this is the best football team I've been on since I've been here. I think this is the best defense in the country. I've seen how the guys work, and that's how I feel."

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